We were in the Amendoeira golf resort in Portugal one year with the Dublin hurlers when the fire alarm was set off one night, writes
Boys will be boys, especially on tour, and, while we didn’t take it too seriously as a management, we still had to address it. And I knew exactly where to start looking for the culprits.
Alan Nolan was the only one of a particular group from the west side of the city, Castleknock/Blanchardstown that hurled out that side (the Cartons lived there but hurled for their father’s club, the famed O ‘Toole’s) but I used to call them ‘The Westies’ – Noley, Mikey and Peadar Carton, Alan McCrabbe and Ruari ‘Budgie’ Trainor.
‘We’ll start with the Budge,’ I said to the rest of the management. ‘He’ll find it hard to tell a lie, whereas with the other four, you couldn’t believe their radios.’ I was trying to be firm, but not too stern either.
‘What kind of an example is that setting to the younger lads on the squad? I asked ‘Budgie’.
Excuse the pun, but the Budge wasn’t for budging. He denied any involvement but I kept probing.
‘But it did come from yere part of the apartment block,’ I said.
He was never going to snitch on his buddies but ‘Budgie’ kind of half-cracked: ‘‘Well it wasn’t me,’ he replied. ‘But it might have been one of my associates.’ From that moment on, the five lads became known as ‘The Associates.’
The TV documentary Love-Hate was really popular at the time and I used to go to town on the boys over it.
‘When are ye appearing on that programme?’ I’d ask them. ‘I’ll turn it on some night and see ye hanging out with Nidge Weasel.’
They were some boyos, but the north-side lads were some craic. We flew back into Dublin another year after a training camp in Bisham Abbey when Derek ‘Smiley’ Reilly turned to me: ‘This is my first time landing on this runway not in a jocker.’
I later found out that jocker is a slang term for dying from a ‘ heavy’ weekend.
The northside lads were just pure characters.
I won’t mention his name, out of respect for his mother, but Vinny Teehan told me a classic one time about one of them. Vinny was teaching him in school and, while he was the standout player on the school hurling team, your man was causing wreck around the place.
Vinny was forced to call in his mother. He gave it to her straight; no homework, disruptive in class, easily distracted, only interested in hurling. ‘I know,’ said the mother ‘but he’s lovely.’ I nearly collapsed laughing. ‘It’s no wonder he is the way he is,’ I said to Vinny.
Ten pounds of butter wouldn’t melt in some of those fellas mouths. They’d have codded our Lord with some of the messing they got up to.
I used to get some mileage out of the northside accent, especially when they were counting out numbers during a stretch.
I’d be waiting until they got to number nine like it was a punchline; they’d always pronounce it like they were speaking German – nein.
When Maurice O’Brien arrived from Limerick, I’d get him to translate for me for the craic. ‘Mossy, what did he say there because I haven’t a clue?
I was listening to Niall Boylan on Classic Hits 4FM recently when his phone-in show was debating the different cultures and attitudes between the north and south side of the capital.
One of the questions Boylan posed to a female southside caller was if she would ever go out with a northsider?
‘Maybe Clontarf,’ she replied. ‘But anywhere else – no way.’ The northsiders were queuing up on the line in their droves to have a cut back at her.
Some of the language was so strong that all you could hear at stages of the conversation was a constant stream of beeps.
You always heard about that north-south divide but it was cool to witness that dynamic in a group setting, especially as you were watching those relationships grow and develop over time.
You could detect shades of that tension in the early days but it soon dissolved because you had a group of strong characters, from all over Dublin, who were all driven by the one cause.
When I first arrived at the tail-end of 2008, the northside had been the power-base in Dublin hurling for generations.
The Cartons, Liam and Kevin Ryan, Kevin Flynn, Ger O’Meara, Philly Brennan, ‘Smiley’ Reilly, Ronan Fallon, Alan McCrabbe, they never believed that any southsider was better than them.
There was a hard edge to those guys anyway but the Ballyboden revolution – when they finally burst through and won five-in-a-row – radically altered the Dublin hurling landscape.
The south has become the powerbase ever since and, while the north-siders may have bristled at that shift, they just accepted that there had to be a new way if Dublin hurling was to be successful.
Ballyboden, Cuala, Kilmacud and Lucan gradually began to dominate the panel but the northside lads were central to the new culture because they completely adapted to it.
When we’d go on those training camps abroad, we’d often get the lads to put on a play, which was basically an opportunity for them to go to town on management.
Early on, the northsiders had little or no interest in it.
Plays weren’t their thing. They were never going to be going to the Olympia or the Gaiety. They had their own ways of creating drama. ‘Ah Dalo,’ they’d say.
‘That stuff is shite. Why don’t ya let us out for a few ‘oul drinks, ya kno wha I mean.’ Yet once they knew they had no other choice but to get on with it, they really rowed in, and knocked some craic out of that stuff.
Ciaran ‘Hedgo’ Hetherton had a very red complexion at times, especially when I had him running around as my Maor Foirne. Noley was taking him off one year and he cut up a red cushion and taped it around his head.
In trying to impersonate me, they stuffed a cushion up their jumpers.
My natural personality was well aligned to most of those guys, especially the Associates, but there were times too when they’d force me to go ape.
I’d call them a pack of eejits, run off the field after training, jump into the car and drive out the gate like some fella in The Fast and the Furious, dust flying everywhere.
Our kitman Ray Finn would be telling me afterwards about the reaction in the dressing room. ‘Jeez, yer man is gone home fair tik.
I wouldn’t like to be in that car with him for three hours.’ I was playing the game with them, just like I’d play cat and mouse with my marker when I was hurling for Clare and Clarecastle. They wouldn’t know what I’d be thinking but it would invariably spark a reaction. If the Associates thought I was thick with them, you’d see a response the next night.
They talked the talk but they could walk the walk.
Mikey was a brilliant hurler. The year we won the Leinster title in 2013, he saved us in the drawn match below in Wexford Park. He had to go straight back to work afterwards but when we stopped in White’s Hotel on the way home, and I addressed the group in a room upstairs, Mikey was my starting point.
‘Thanks be to God we had the fireman this evening,’ I said. ‘Because when everyone else was running out of the burning building, Mikey was putting out the fires.’
McCrabbe was another super talent, an All-Star in 2009. When I’d hear lads saying Dublin were only manufactured hurlers, I’d use McCrabbe as exhibit A to outline that they weren’t. He had talent, vision and striking ability better than any player in the country.
Noley has developed into an excellent goalkeeper. Peadar and Budgie may not have had the same profile but they were great lads who always brought something to the group.
The five of them were out last Christmas when they sent me on a WhatsApp message with a photo under the caption, ‘The Associates are out in force’.
I thought of that photo last week after news broke that Mikey had contracted the coronavirus.
Mikey was one of the strongest and fittest fellas on the squad but posting personal images and details of the experience was his way of showing how Covid-19 isn’t selective in who it chooses to infect. And it was a powerful message.
This week, his wife Ciara posted a completely different picture on Facebook, of a beaming Mikey with their two sons in his arms. ‘Great to see the big smiley head back again,’ I posted.
You just had to love the north-siders but I was always very fond of the Dublin hurlers, not just because they embraced me so warmly, but because they were probably the perfect yin to my yang.
There were times when they didn’t know what to make of me, as much as I struggled to fully understand them.
In the early days, especially after a poor performance, or a crap match in training, I’d say, ‘Lads, that wouldn’t bate Katie Barry.’
When Liam Ryan stepped away from Dublin in the early part of the last decade, we had a great chat.
At the end of the conversation, Liam said there was one thing that he’d been meaning to ask me for years. ‘Dalo, who’s Katee Barree?’
I always said that if I was a Dub, I’d have been a northsider.
And I’d probably – nah, defo bud – been an Associate.